Washington announced it is withdrawing from the UN cultural organization next year, saying UNESCO’s biased against Israel. Heather Nauert, White House spokeswoman, said the decision was not taken lightly. The U.S. co-founded the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in 1945. Nauert said that UNESCO needs fundamental reform. She added that the U.S. will remain a non-member observer state in order to contribute its views, perspectives and expertise.
In 2011 President Barack Obama’s administration stopped providing about 72 million dollars a year to UNESCO. That happened a year after the organization accepted Palestine as a member. UNESCO says the debt is almost 543 million dollars. According to the U.S. laws, funding of any UN agency that considers the Palestinians as a nation is barred. Washington has lost the voting privilege in 2013, but the organization also got into trouble because of the financial crisis.
The U.S. is not withdrawing for the first time from UNESCO. The country did the same thing back in 1984, but it joined again in 2003. The actual withdrawal won’t take effect until December 31, 2018.
“At the time when conflicts continue to tear apart societies across the world, it is deeply regrettable for the United States to withdraw from the United Nations agency promoting education for peace and protecting culture under attack. This is why I regret the withdrawal of the United States,” UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said.
The Washington Post reports that State Department officials have said they hope the withdrawal will help push UNESCO to make changes that would satisfy Washington so the U.S. can resume full membership.
“It sends a strong message that we need to see fundamental reform in the organization, and it raises everyone’s awareness about continued anti-Israel bias,” said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity under department ground rules. The Post reported that the withdrawal is another decision by the Trump administration to distance itself from the international community.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the U.S. decision and said that UNESCO’s anti-Israel agenda has made it into a theater of the absurd. “UNESCO has become a theater of the absurd because, instead of preserving history, it distorts it,” he said in a statement. According to Netanyahu, Israel also prepares to leave the organization.